In case you haven’t been shocked into gleeful submission in a while, or had your patience tested and tested, and tested some more, or — I don’t know — if you haven’t cradled the urge to run into a burning building just for some peace and quiet, consider a ticket to “The Onion Game” at Irish Classical Theatre. It just may be the salve you’ve been looking for in these ridiculous times.
The production marks the American premiere of Bryan Delaney’s dark comedy, a cozy enough label for a genre that’s often hard to pin down. It’s subversive, twisted, riotous, far-fetched and radically free – a story unfazed by our expectations. You might feel its freedom when you decide to sit up and lean forward, or plant your face in your hands, as I did. The feeling that comes from jumping out of a play’s window mid-flight; the pure joy in the danger of being weightless. It’s the most alive I have felt in a theater in quite some time.
Delaney’s plays “The Cobbler” and “The Seedbed” – both favorites at Irish Classical over the years – are in effect completed with “The Onion Game.” Consider it a trilogy of distant cousins, unlinked but sprouted from the same root urges: to tell stories, to challenge, to devour.
Here, we meet a family on the brink of self-destruction. Here, turmoil rots from within and not specifically the world outside. There’s a stench of regret and dismay on their land. It might be easy to assume, as with many dark comedies, that their love, while uncommon by societal standards, is just as heartfelt and earnest (think “The Addams Family”). But that would be too kind; this nuclear family is poised to detonate.
This company shines vivid light on these wacko personalities. The fearless Stan Klimecko is Onion – uncompassionate father, disaffected husband, disheveled onion farmer; he’s writing the next Great Irish Novel, his ticket out of this life, perhaps. Kelly Meg Brennan revels in the juicy role of Pearl, Onion’s wife who maintains her sanity by affixing decorative beads to every square inch of their furniture. Move along; nothing to see here.
Louie Visone is delicious in the role of Ogie, their post-pubescent son who cavorts around the household in briefs and open-aired robes, maneuvering his manipulations on his difficult parental units. And Ava Schara is a breath of fresh air (for a moment) as young Milly, a poet by heart, the most earnest one around. She wisely observes from the sidelines.
Ray Boucher and David Lundy each deliver distinct wacky roles of cosmic-orbiting proportions. Lundy is especially off his rocker, to our benefit. Nobody is who they seem, right up until the end. I smell inspiration from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “August: Osage County,” though even those are quaint by comparison.
It would be a disservice to explain more specifically their negotiations; their unraveling is the play's fun. Delaney gets his kicks off of these perpetual, exponential twists, and they are better preserved for your navigation. There are passages that beg to be trimmed, and perhaps one too many whips of peculiarity even for this motley crew. But they’re inconsequential to the big picture.
Director Greg Natale illuminates Delaney’s massive vision with a perfectly imperfect world of his own. From David King’s detailed set to Tom Makar’s punctuating (and moving) sound design, to a fantastically placed video component (video production by Brian Milbrand) that maximizes act one’s transitions, this is an orchestral production of a rock 'n' roll opera. It feels like a bucket of all your favorite snacks – cheesy chips, savory crackers, buttery cookies and sugary candy in each addictive fistful. A wild, satisfying, tooth-rotting ride that you’re not likely to regret. Bravo.
The Onion Game
Four stars (out of four)
Through March 29 at Irish Classical Theatre, 625 Main St. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $49 general, $20 students. (box office, 853-4282, irishclassicaltheatre.com).